There are two reasons why increased shaving could correlate with increased STI risk. Firstly, tiny microtears in the skin – that often happen as a result of a close shave – could mean a higher infection risk. The other likelihood is that those with shaved pubic hair tended to have a higher number of sexual partners, so increasing the number of people they came into contact with. The conclusion is that both of these things contribute to an increased risk.
There are plenty of things you can do to prevent the spread of STIs. Firstly, using condoms – especially with new or casual partners – drastically reduces the risk of contracting STIs like chlamydia. Check out our sexual health M.O.T. guide for more information. What’s more, if you suspect you might have an STI, going to your local clinic for a check-up can either put your mind at rest or it can help you determine the best ways to manage any infection you might have.
But should you stop shaving? Well…
The politics of pubic hair
Apparently far more men are ‘manscaping’ these days (witness this new site dedicated to the practice). According to a joint poll between Cosmopolitan and AskMen, a whopping 95% of men they surveyed said they do at least something with their pubic hair. From a slight trim to a full-on shave, more people are deciding to lose the pubes. Some people cite a desire to keep ‘neat’, while others do it because their partners prefer it that way, or because they’d like to look more like the people in porn. The jury is still out on whether shaving your pubes makes your penis look bigger – presumably that’s in the eye of the beholder.
Regardless of reasons, it’s your choice whether you want to shave, trim or – gulp – wax your pubic hair. The most important thing, if you’re doing it, is to make sure that you minimise subsequent pain or itchiness, and those tiny microtears that leave you at a higher risk of infection. Off the back of this study, researchers recommended that if you’ve had a bit of a close shave, you might want to hold off on casual sex for a short while until the skin has healed. Or in other words: do your trimming a few nights before, rather than on the morning of a hot date.
STIs and stigma
Naturally no one wants an infection: even the most benign STIs are a pain to treat or deal with. But the stigma surrounding STIs can be a barrier to testing and education – while STIs are so heavily stigmatised, it’s difficult for people who have them to disclose relevant information to their partners or get treatment if they need it.
Ella Dawson is a blogger and activist who has genital herpes. Herpes is one of the STIs that can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact, and it’s incredibly common. Plenty of adults have it and have no idea. Since she has been diagnosed, Ella has made it her mission to speak out about herpes – tackling the stigma surrounding STIs and trying to open up the conversation. In her TED talk, she explained that:
“I had been told my entire life that I was not the type of person that herpes and other STDs happened to. People with herpes, in my mind, were dishonest, irresponsible, promiscuous, unfaithful, and—depending on who you asked—I didn’t consider myself any of those things. What I learned very quickly was that that really intense, deeply ingrained stereotype was the result of a very powerful social stigma that surrounds STDs like herpes in our society.”
During Sexual Health Week, the Family Planning Association (FPA) releases some stats that showed 68% of people had never been tested for STIs – 8% said that it was out of fear or embarrassment that someone would find out. What’s more, the FPA also found that around 10% of people thought that the people who have STIs are also the ones who have the most casual sex. They busted this myth neatly on their website, explaining that STIs don’t care about your sexual history, and it’s perfectly possible to catch something even if you only have one partner.
There is only one good way to deal with STI stigma: conversation. Discussion about the facts, rather than the fears. While you may be at increased risk of an STI if you shave your pubic hair, the only way to know is to chat to your GP or local clinic about tests.